05 December 2020
Recently, someone asked us, "Can you please tell me who is the highest authority or is the most respected resource regarding writing rules?" There are several excellent sources on writing rules. However, the rules are different for different fields, such as business, technology, government, or academic writing.
Strunk & White
Full-time writers often turn to a handbook, such as Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style." This book, published in 1959, combined the earlier work of William Strunk, Junior and E. B. White, the writer of several popular children's books. "The Elements of Style" has simple rules for good writing. You can get the 1920 version of the book free on Project Gutenberg. More recent versions deal with issues of gender and changes in punctuation.
Chicago Manual of Style
Students writing a report for school may use a book like The Chicago Manual of Style, from the University of Chicago. The Chicago Manual deals with English grammar and how to prepare an academic paper. It was first published in 1906. Kate L. Turabian's Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is based on The Chicago Manual. Her work is especially helpful for high school and college students. It is available free online.
An excellent place to look for help with writing is Purdue University's Online Writing Lab, or "OWL" for short. As noted earlier, technical and professional writing is different from what teachers expect of writing in school. So, Purdue OWL has a guide for writing business letters and technical materials.
The OWL has helpful resources for writing teachers who are working remotely, too. Teachers can download presentations on many subjects related to writing.
Another English learner asked us how to avoid plagiarism when writing. Plagiarism is when someone takes another person's work and passes it off as their own.
Many schools punish students severely for copying the words of another writer. For those learning English, writing has different problems, and to help them, the OWL has one part especially for ESL students. It includes an explanation of how American schools deal with plagiarism.
When students find information on the internet, it is too easy to copy it and put it directly into their own written work. To avoid this, the OWL urges you to take more time to deeply understand what you read. Begin by looking at books and printed materials before turning to the internet. When you find information on the internet, write down notes by hand in a notebook. As you write, put the ideas into your own words. This process is called paraphrasing.
Think about the meaning of the whole work. You want to tell your reader how this information is related to your own ideas. If you use another writer's exact words, make sure to place quotation marks ["_"] before and after them, and tell your reader how to find the original source. The guides I named earlier in this report explain how to quote work in different styles of writing.
If you are not sure about how well you paraphrased another writer's work, there are online tools that will tell you how closely your work resembles that of someone else. Ask your school which tool they suggest. Or you can take a few lines from your written work and copy them into an internet search engine. If they are the same as another published work, the search result will probably identify that work.
Work with others
Another good way to test your writing is to read it aloud and see if it is easy to understand. Ask a friend or a family member to listen as you read it and tell you if they can understand. Writing well is not easy, but when finished you will have a good feeling: you have communicated your ideas to others clearly.
I'm Jill Robbins.
Jill Robbins wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
authority – n. a person who is an expert on a subject
resource – n. a supply of money or materials that can be used by a person or organization to operate effectively
academic – adj. relating to education
gender – n. either of two sexes, especially when noting social and cultural differences, not biological ones
punctuation – n. the marks used in writing to separate statements and clarify meaning
grammar – n. the whole system and structure of a language
remotely – adj. without physical contact; something done online or on the internet
paraphrase – v. to say (something that someone else has said or written) using different words
quotation – n. a group of words taken from a written work or speech and repeated by someone other than the writer or speaker
resemble – v. to look or be like (someone or something)
What kind of writing do you usually do? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.